It’s a good thing that Congress is so deadlocked. There! I said it! Flew in the face of all punditry and conventional wisdom. Had my own opinion, and shared it with the world. Now that I have begun to roil the pot a bit, it’s time to step back and see what I hope to accomplish with that statement, and the rest of these posts.
I think it’s time to consider the big picture questions, and I don’t think that the members of government or the media are doing that very well. They pick at this and they pick at that, endlessly discuss the minutiae of the campaign trail, or the latest ad, or how Congress screwed up today. That sort of thinking will get us nowhere. We need to decide in which direction this country will be heading, and to do that, we need to be discussing philosophy a whole lot more than we need to be parsing the meaning of the tales of two dogs.
First off, let me state that, contrary to what the pundits proclaim, I think that Congress is doing its job quite well. The stalemate that is so denigrated in the press (I use this term to include all news outlets) is merely a reflection of the two major philosophies that are battling for supremacy in the country today. One, the conservative view, states that government should be involved in controlling people’s baser desires (you know, sex and suchlike); the other, the liberal view, states that government should be involved in controlling people’s higher callings, their service to their fellow man (and woman, and child, and animal, and—you get the picture).
The problem is that the liberals think that their baser desires should be a matter of private concern only, and the conservatives think the same thing about their higher callings. Thus, the stalemate. So, while these two types of thinkers are busy name-calling and stone-walling each other, President Obama is busy promising everything to everyone, and meanwhile, the country is going down the toilet.
So I think it’s high time to take a moment or two to think about what we want our goals to be, to discuss the various ways and means of achieving those goals, to share any ideas we might have on any subject, and to create a nation based on the few shared goals that we may have. The main consideration to keep in mind is that I expect that there will be very few completely shared goals. That is, I believe, a good thing, because it is only those very few shared goals that should be the subject of governmental regulation.
If one half of the country says stay out of my bedroom, and the other half of the country says stay out of my religion, then the solution is not to make deals with each other to enforce regulations on both unwilling parties; the solution is for government to stay out of the bedroom and out of religion. I think that the founding fathers recognized the tendency of do-gooders to cut deals with each other in order for both sides to gain power, and that is why they fragmented governmental power as much as they did. The problem today is not that Congress is not acting enough, it is that it has acted too much in the past, and the citizens of the country have had enough.
Members of both parties are angry at the proposed uses of Congressional regulation by the members of the opposing party, and that should tell us something—cut out all of the regulating! While you may think that your party has the high moral ground, and all of your regulations would serve the country well, the other party thinks exactly the same thing. When the country is so evenly divided, it is ridiculous to believe that Congress will be capable of any type of action. This stalemate should provide us with food for thought, not stones for throwing. Everyone believes that they can make the world a better place, but when the definitions of what make the world a better place differ so much, it is time for governmental interference to be kept to a minimum.
The wisdom that seems to have been lost in the shuffle is that, when the feed for the government trough is collected by force, when benefits arrive through the mailbox, and when individual personalities have nothing to do with individual rewards, there is no need for learning the niceties of social interaction. Common courtesies fly out the window. Rudeness, crudeness and provocation become the only ways to attract attention.
Other the other hand, so long as government stays out of the mix, and nobody has very much power, things will tend to get sorted out by themselves—people have to get along to get along. They have to be friendly, they must abide by the common courtesies, and they are compelled to perform up to snuff when their livelihood and welfare depend on the better parts of their neighbors’ natures.
While it was once possible that this world could have become fragmented, its players unknown to each other, the internet has made the world a village again. Although there is much talk about the anonymity of the virtual world, there can be no anonymity where there is business to conduct. So the cowards, the stalkers, the flamers, can all hide behind their on-line personas, but the local plumber must use his real name if he hopes to make the grade on Angie’s List. We have all become responsible for our good reputations again. There is no screwing up in the East, then moving out West to start anew. Now your reputation follows you to Asia and back.
So what does that have to do with governmental regulation? Simply this: it was one thing to federally force citizens into proper behavior when they could evade the code of conduct of the all-seeing, all-knowing village by moving into the anonymity of the city. But when the world is your village, standards of conduct can once again be enforced by the citizens, both locally and across the planet. Shame and guilt are effective social tools when you can’t hide. Shirking your work or your duty becomes more difficult when the whole world is watching.
We will have to relearn to use those valuable tools: guilt, and shame, and shunning. They work marvelously on the human psyche, although years of reliance on unconcerned bureaucrats have made concern for the good thoughts of other citizens almost an anachronism. But the code of conduct can be re-learned. It will come back to life quicker than we can believe possible, once we return to reliance on our fellow creatures. And, since I believe that a great deal of the current uncivil behavior is merely the universal cry of the human for some acknowledgement of his/her existence, if we return to rewarding proper behavior, we will see more good work and less bad deeds. Even if proper behavior is defined differently in different areas, the great melting pot will provide common cultural standards.
The wonderful thing about prohibiting governmental regulation is that we are all still free to act the way we want to in private, without fear of arrest—and that goes for both camps, liberal and conservative. What parties on both sides of the aisle seem to forget is that humans are messy, grumpy, off-the-wall, fanatical, strange creatures, and it is impossible to legislate that out of existence, no matter how hard you try.
The day of big government has come and gone. There is no need for big government in a small village, and the whole world has become our village. Let’s figure out the proper role for our government in the future, figure out the least onerous way of funding it, and move on to the really big issues. Can’t figure out what the really big issues are? Keep checking back—eventually, I’ll get to them all.